Having already authored three full-length novels, Hattiesburg author Jason Beverly recently tried his hand at writing short stories – in particular, those dealing with supernatural themes and ghosts.
Before he knew it, he had a collection of stories big enough to complete a book – hence Beverly’s fourth publication, Releasing Magnolias Along the Mystical Railway: A Collection of Mississippi Ghost Tales, which was released last week. The book features more than 20 stories that take the reader throughout Mississippi, including sites in Hattiesburg, Lamar County and the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“A lot of the stories deal with actual historical events and situations, so it was an opportunity for me to get people to learn history through a supernatural lens,” said Beverly, who serves as dean of Student Services at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. “For instance, some of the stories have racial undertones, just based on the history of Mississippi, whereas some of the stories are based on historic events like the nuclear testing at the Tatum Salt Dome.
“So it’s to entertain and inform – I want people to be entertained, but I also want them to learn something from it as well. I wanted to inform people and entertain people in a unique way, which just so happens to be in a supernatural way.”
The book deals with an author who, while visiting William Faulkner’s Rowan Oak home in Oxford, encounters restless souls who task him with sharing their stories to help them move on in the afterlife. The writer then boards a train in Meridian to take his journey throughout the state, which ends in the ghost town of Rodney in Jefferson County.
Readers will find Hattiesburg-based tales such as “House of Terror on Lakeview Road” and Unsung Brigade of Palmers Crossing,” while stories such as “Discovery at Old Burnt Bridge” and “Salted Souls” take place in Lamar County. The main character also visits locales including Laurel, Waynesboro, Biloxi, Parchman and Jackson on his journey.
Among Beverly’s favorite stories in the book are “Brenda From the Bay,” which tells the tale of a young girl who haunts the waters of Ocean Springs and Biloxi, and “Wade-in With Jim and Them,” which centers around the Wade-in that occurred in Biloxi in the 1960s. As for the Hattiesburg stories, Beverly is partial to “Supernatural Schoolhouse Days,” which is based on a haunting situation at the old Roberts Schoolhouse on the campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.
“Then we’ve got the story about the Yazoo Witch, which I put my own interpretation on that one,” he said. “And there’s ‘The Hot Coffee Ice Cream Man,’ and that one is a ghost story that is immersed in history that deals with Jim Crow laws and stuff like that.”
Releasing Magnolias Along the Mystical Railway can be purchased online at www.jasonbeverly.com, along with Beverly’s other three books: Mississippi Revival Roads, The Flying Church of Orleans Parish and Ghosts of Beauvoir: A Supernatural Journey of Self-Discovery.
Beverly hopes the short-story format of the book will appeal to a wide variety of readers.
“A lot of times, when you mention the word ‘novel’ to people, they don’t want to read it because they think it’s too long,” Beverly said. “But if you tell them it’s individual short stories, they may look at it and say, ‘okay, I’ll read a couple of these.’
“Once they read the first couple, that’ll kind of get them hooked, and before you know it, they’ve read a whole novel and they don’t even realize it.”
Beverly, who still lives in Hattiesburg, received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi. Before going into higher education, he worked in television, radio and print media.